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Why I love... The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers

The first time we experience something, the more powerful it's effect on us. This is true of many things: new love, broken hearts, deaths, the first time we achieve something special for ourselves. I think it's also that way with books, or a piece of music or art.

The first historical fantasy I read was The Drawing of the Dark, by Tim Powers, and I was absolutely blown away. The central premise - staging the return of King Arthur in the middle of the siege of Vienna in 1529, with the part of Saviour of the West being played by Brian Duffy, a drunken Irish mercenary - was brilliantly left-field. Suddenly everything seemed possible: and that was only the beginning of the wonders.

There were eastern demons and sorcerers, a delightfully seedy Merlin, trolls, mythic tie-ins to the Fisher King legend, Greek myth, and of course that famous sword (which our hero sniffily declares to be too long, too heavy and lacking in a modern basket-hilt, so he'll stick to his trusty rapier, thanks). And the best part was that it tied into real events, so you could just about pretend that this was what really happened. As someone already fascinated by history, the notion that it could be played with was wonderful.

Then there was the humour: droll, dry, earthy and pitch-perfect. Tim Powers writes brilliantly, puts his heroes through some gruelling situations, and he has this knack of making his magic erratic, painfully self-destructive and very quirky. The hocus-pocus works; you can see why a wizard might look like he's eighty, even if he's only in his thirties. In Tim Powers' story worlds, magic is cheating, accessed by making deals with grubby daemonic spirits: it's dirty, nasty and only done by the desperate.

Everything Tim does is brilliant. I once heard him speak and he mentioned that the great part about using history as inspiration is that it could usually supply real events that are stranger, bloodier and more dramatic than a writer could ever dream up. That's certainly something I've found.

The Drawing of the Dark is arguably not even his best book: The Anubis Gates is incredible with a brilliant twist ending, and On Stranger Tides and The Stress of Her Regard are also amazing. But like I said: firsts are often favorites, and that's why of all his work, it is The Drawing of the Dark that I love best.


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